Social worker Ruth Murney on developing our services in Scotland

Social worker Ruth Murney on developing our services in Scotland

Meet Ruth Murney – who works with the Child Abuse Litigation Service in Scotland

With a 30 year career in child protection behind her, working in some of the most notorious estates in Glasgow with highly vulnerable families, it would be completely understandable if Ruth Murney felt burnt out from her career. But far from it, and last year Ruth took up a role working with WillisPalmer’s Child Abuse Litigation Service in Scotland.

Explaining how she manages to avoid falling victim to burn out as so many frontline child protection social workers have done over the years, Ruth says: “I am no use to anyone if I take my work home. I’m lucky, I have a family, dogs, sisters and so my life is very busy out of work too. I am highly committed to my work, but I don’t take it home with me. It’s been hard going over the years, but you have to believe that you are doing the best you can with the information you have got at the time.”

WillisPalmer’s Child Abuse Litigation Service has been established in England for 16 years but broadened its services to delivery in Scotland last year. A team of Scottish social workers have been specifically trained in specialist litigation work with Executive Consultant Philip King who leads the Service and has worked in the field for 16 years too.

“I was really interested in the litigation work. I’ve spent so long working in social work and I’ve been in many different authorities and I’ve been given cases which require a fresh pair of eyes from someone with experience,” said Ruth.

Strong moral compass

Ruth believes her strengths are being fair minded and having a knowledge which spans decades so whereas alcohol was a huge problem in the 1990’s, nowadays it is drugs, she says.

“I am interested in looking at patterns within a case and if I was called to court for the litigation work, I could confidently give evidence if it were required,” Ruth adds.

Ruth qualified in 1992 after working for a Liverpool-based charity which had two respite homes in Scotland. Vulnerable children would go to the homes for a week and experience activities they had never experienced before such as sports, walks, swimming, even board games. Once the charity sold the homes to expand, Ruth went to university to study for her CSW and degree in social work, urged on by her experiences at the charity. Having been raised in a large family, she had always had a strong moral compass and the work at the charity gave her insight into the plight of vulnerable children.

On qualifying, Ruth worked in a notorious inner city in generic childcare social work including community care, criminal justice and child protection before specialisms were introduced in 1994. Much of her work was with the police carrying out unannounced raids at houses where it was suspected that drugs were being dealt and where children were living. Those cases would result in long-term work and sometimes progressed to the point of adoption for those children.

Her whole career has been dedicated to child protection and in 1995 she carried out child protection statutory training, learning about child protection policies and anti-discriminatory practices. Ruth also trained to be a practice teacher and supervised final year social work students.

After her 10 years working in the inner city, Ruth went into managing a child protection team, which was a duty team taking child protection referrals. The team had a high morale, aided by ‘scones, and talking cases through with those who were experiencing difficulties’. “Sometimes, it’s the little things,” said Ruth.

Dumping ground

At that point, the team would take a referral and pass the case to the family child protection team which didn’t sit well with Ruth as she felt all areas should be involved with the case including community care and criminal justice. She raised it with her director, who discussed it with the directors of community care and criminal justice. “We were just as responsible and we knew the families,” she said.

It resulted in a more integrated approach with additional training for the criminal justice and community care workers. While she may not have been popular for putting her head above the parapet initially, it was later embraced as the family team no longer felt like a “dumping ground”.

Bumping into an old school friend who had set up a therapeutic residential care home for children aged 4-17, Ruth was asked to cover him every second weekend. The older children “were an inch away from being secured” and the staff to child ratio was 1:1 backed by a multi-disciplinary team and psychologist involvement.

Shortly afterwards, they asked Ruth to manage the home, which she did for five years. She only left because a couple she knew closer geographically to home were turning a nursery into a children’s residential home and wanted Ruth on board for her experience. Once the home was registered, Ruth started visiting commissioning managers in the west of Scotland with brochures to garner interest. Unsurprisingly, the home filled up quickly and expanded.

Sadly, Ruth’s parents were both seriously ill and she took on agency work for the flexibility which enabled her to spend quality time with her parents. One of her placements at East Dunbartonshire was particularly flexible and enabled her time off whenever she needed to be with her parents. After she lost her parents within months of each other, Ruth took on a two-year role with the council “as payback” for their understanding.

Ruth currently manages a child protection team and she carries out assessments, kinship and adoption and quality assures each report. She currently work three days per week including one day in the office due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Having carried out her litigation training with Phil a year ago, Ruth is currently in discussions about potential cases for WillisPalmer. However, Ruth is very excited for the future.

“I plan to contact the commissioners in Scotland and talk about what we are providing. There are 32 local authorities so there is a lot of scope,” Ruth concluded.

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